Job 24 Commentary: Each of us has a natural sense of justice. We want good to win and bad to lose.
And this is the case by-and-large whether we're Christians or not. The definition of what is good and what is bad certainly differs between Christians and the lost. Nevertheless, humankind typically cheers for what they consider good and jeers for what they consider bad.
In fact, this is a large part of storytelling. If you've ever thought about classic stories – or stories that you love – you'll probably recognize that there's a protagonist – a.k.a. the good guy. And usually there's also an antagonist – the bad guy – or sometimes the bad guy is not a guy at all. Sometimes it's nature or something else.
But everyone for the most part seems to have this internal desire to see whatever they conceive of as justice carried out in this life.
And this seems to be the impasse that the biblical character Job and his three friends are experiencing as they consider what's happening in Job's life.
So, let's turn to Job, chapter 24 to see this.
And in Job 24 we're going to see the result of the long argument that Job and his three friends have been engaging in.
These two groups are looking at justice from different perspectives.
Job and his friends are all equally interested in justice being carried out in this life.
The friends have bought into the idea that God always punishes evil immediately and always rewards good immediately in this life. And so, if a person is being punished – he's evil.
See the logic? If God punishes evil, then if you're being punished then you're... Good? No – evil. That's what the friends believe.
And Job would have believed that himself. Until out of nowhere he starts receiving what seems to be punishment from God! We saw that in chapters 1 and 2 of this book. All his stuff was taken – loved ones, wealth, and health. All gone.
And Job has had time to think. And Job has had to defend himself against these friends' accusation against him that he is wicked.
But Job hasn't changed. He's still righteous. But what has changed? The way that God is dealing with him. And so, instead of blessing Job for his righteousness – God is now punishing Job for his righteousness. And this makes no sense to anyone – Job or his friends.
But the way that his friends make sense of it in their mind is that Job is secretly wicked. And within this extended argument that they've been waging with one another – often times the friends will resort to describing how the typical wicked man fares in this life.
And then the friends extend that to Job and say – look Job, we see how what's happening to you fits with what we think happens to wicked people!
The wicked man – according to the friends – is cursed in every way. He's miserable. His kids meet with an untimely end. Their possessions and everything they have is cursed in this life.
But Job is looking at those claims. And in this chapter he says – in effect – but, that's just not the way that things work in this life.
And so, in Job 24 we're going to see an entire chapter devoted by Job to pointing to times when he's seen wicked men going unpunished.
Job 24 Commentary: Wicked Men Go Unpunished
So, Job is going to start this chapter by asserting that very thing – that in numerous ways and in numerous circumstances, wicked men go unpunished in this life!
KJV Job 24:1 Why, [seeing times are not/are times not] [hidden/stored up/appointed] [from/by] the Almighty, [why does the Almighty not punish?...]
[and why...] do they that know him not see his [own...] days?
So, Job is asserting that times are not hidden from God. Nothing is, really. And since that’s the case and God knows everything – why do people who don’t know God see his days? I think that’s speaking of ungodly people living long in this life that God gives them.
So, why do wicked men live long lives in this life that God has given them – when God knows all about their wickedness and nothing is hidden from him? You’d think – and Job is thinking – that if God knows all, then men who don’t know him should not live very long. But they do sometimes!
Job 24 Commentary: Some Who Don't Get Their Day
And so, Job is going to highlight these people who don't know God and yet live long lives. And he makes a composite picture of them – not saying that every single wicked man does everything that he mentions. But giving a glimpse across the spectrum of wicked people and giving some characteristics and practices that they tend toward.
Job 24 Commentary: Thieves
And so, Job starts by highlighting that these men steal.
2 [Some/Men] [remove/move] [the landmarks/boundary stones];
they [violently take away/seize] flocks, and [feed thereof/devour them/pasture them].
Now, landmarks or boundary stones in the Old Testament marked where one man's property ended and another's began.
We have something similar in our time. For my house we have a pipe driven into the ground that sticks out of the grass a few inches and that's what people before me have used to remind themselves of where their property ends.
And Job is saying that there are people who take that kind of marker and they move it. And the idea is that they move it in such a way as would disadvantage their neighbor and results in more land for themselves.
And then Job pointed to the wicked men who take people's flocks and treat that flock like their own.
In both cases, Job is saying that there are people in this life who take what belongs to someone else and make it their own through deception and robbery.
And here's the key. The friends have said that these people will always be cursed and punished. And yet, Job is saying – No! These people keep the land they steal. They keep the flocks they steal. Sometimes these men go unpunished and they prosper in their wickedness!
Job 24 Commentary: Cruel
Now, you can sort of understand the motivation for stealing. I'm not saying it's right. It's not right. But if a person needs food or land or whatever – you can sort of identify with desperation taking over and in the moment just doing something foolish to survive.
But this next characteristic that Job highlights is not like that at all. Did you know that there are some who just take a perverse joy in causing mischief? They're just plain cruel. Let Job tell you about it.
3 They drive away the [ass/donkey] of the [fatherless/orphan],
they take the widow's ox for a pledge.
So, note the abuse that these men perpetrate against the least-powerful members of society and their material substance.
A child who had no father or mother might still have a donkey – which could assist him in doing work in order to make some money and support himself.
But Job is alerting us to the fact that there are men in this world who would drive that donkey away – either to that wicked man's home – or what I think is more likely just out into the dessert for some sort of sick "fun" – deriving joy by depriving the needy of the little that they do have.
Same thing with the widow. Job is identifying that there are widows who have an ox that might help them to plow the field and make some sort of meager living. But then that widow falls on extremely hard times and needs to borrow money.
And this hypothetical wicked man is willing to lend to her. But it'll cost her that ox – the only thing that she has to plow her field and make any sort of living.
So, the widow is left in a bind. She can give the ox and take the money or keep the ox and not have the money. Either way, she's left in no better shape than when she began.
And so, Job is recognizing the fact that there are wicked men in this world who will take advantage of and mistreat the neediest people in society – not because of personal need – but just out of cruel pleasure.
Job 24 Commentary: Fearful
And so, Job continues highlighting how wicked men abuse those who are less powerful than they are. And in verse 4 Job says that these men are fearful – fear-inducing.
4 They [turn/push] the needy [out of/aside from/from] the [way/road/pathway]:
the poor of the [earth/land] [hide/are made to hide] themselves [together/altogether].
So, these wicked men intimidate and threaten the needy. And in response, the needy are pictured as cowering in some hidden place together – away from their wicked oppressor whom God never seems to judge.
Job 24 Commentary: The Oppressed
So, then Job moves on from there and seems to highlight the plight of those poor and needy ones who are abused by wicked men.
5 Behold, [as/like] wild [asses/donkeys] in the [desert/widerness], go they forth to their work;
[rising betimes/seeking diligently] for [a prey/food]:
the [wilderness/desert/wasteland] yieldeth food for them
and for their children.
So, the poor and needy are driven to hide themselves in the desert from these wicked men whom God never seems to punish. And there in the wastelands they scrape together something that would resemble food for them and their poor helpless children.
Job 24 Commentary: Wicked Prosper
And yet the wicked are well-fed. Verse 6.
6 They [reap/harvest] [every one his corn/their fodder] in the field:
and they gather [the/in the] [vintage/vineyard] of the wicked.
So, meanwhile – as the needy are forced to forage in the desert for their own food back in verse 5 – at the same time, after they’ve done that then they need to come to work for the wicked and reap their fields.
And they end up taking in a great harvest – even though they don’t get to eat any of it. And, it's the vintage of the wicked. It should be cursed according to the Retribution Theology of Job's friends. And yet, Job is pointing out that sometimes it doesn't happen that way. Sometimes the vintage of the wicked amazingly seems to be blessed – by the very God whom they spurn.
Job 24 Commentary: Wicked Don't Clothe Needy
And yet again, Job juxtaposes the apparent blessings of the wicked with the apparent curses and miseries of the needy. Here's what the wicked do to the needy...
7 They [cause the naked to lodge/spend the night naked] [without/because they lack] clothing,
[that they have/and they have] no covering [in/against] the cold.
So, the wicked would have something to clothe the naked with. But they withhold it. Just like they have food for the needy but make the needy go out into the desert to gather whatever they can find.
And in fact, it's worse than that. The assumption here is that the wicked actively steal the clothing of the needy.
And according to Retribution Theology – and really, even according to our own innate sense of justice – this isn't right! It's the wicked who should go poorly clothed and hungry! And yet, that's not always the way it works. In fact, it's often not the way things work.
Job's friends don't want to recognize that. But Job is making a big issue of this inconvenient truth. Because if Job can establish the fact that sometimes the wicked aren't punished – then couldn't it be said that sometimes the righteous aren't blessed materially? Because that’s what Job is starting to recognize is happening to him – even though his friends aren't willing to believe that.
Job 24 Commentary: Needy Wet With Rain
And so, Job keeps his focus on the needy who are disadvantaged because of wicked men.
8 They are [wet with/soaked by] [the showers of the mountains/mountain rains],
and [embrace the rock/hug the rock/huddle in the rocks] [for want of a/because they lack] shelter.
So, not only do the needy lack proper clothing like in verse 7. They also lack proper shelter sometimes.
And again – if the needy are innocent of wickedness or are positively righteous then the Retribution Theology way of thinking would say that these people should be blessed materially. They should have nice houses.
And sometimes God does work it out that way. But he doesn't always.
And to tie this all into what Job is trying to say in these last 20-some chapters – just because Job is suffering doesn't mean that he's secretly sinning – like his three friends have constantly been maintaining.
Job 24 Commentary: Stealing Children from Parents
But Job has more to say regarding how sometimes bad things happen to relatively good people and good things happen to really bad people...
9 [They/Others] [pluck/snatch] the [fatherless/orphan/fatherless child] from the breast,
and take a pledge [of/against] the poor.
And in context that pledge might well be the infant that the wicked stole from his poor mother.
And by the way – if you're really thinking about these various scenes that Job is portraying, you should be angry. This is not right! Powerful people ought not abuse their power at the expense of those who have little to no power.
Part of the image of God in man surely must be a desire to meet the needs of those who have less than you. And so, when Job keeps parading before our mind's eye all of these cases in which those who are struggling are beaten down even more by those who have the means to lift them up... there should be a sense of anger in us – of holy indignation!
That's surely how Job feels about it. But I think the friends haven't thought that deeply about injustice in this life. They'd rather ignore the facts and continue in what they've always believed – even when what they believe is neither based on God's word – nor in line with reality.
But in the mind of everyone who's pondered or experienced this kind of thing – our minds do start to wonder as to why God seems to not take any action. Why does he let this go on?
And we have answers for this in Scripture that Job and his friends didn't seem to have access to. Namely – even the message of this book is helpful in this regard: When We Can't Understand God's Ways, We Must Trust His Wisdom.
God's ways of patiently allowing evil to happen are not easy to understand. But even when we can't understand his ways, we do well to – we must – trust his wisdom.
Job 24 Commentary: Living without Proper Food and Clothing
Well, Job continues to pile up in his mind the injustices in this world – especially as they relate to wicked men seeming to avoid being punished for their wickedness to their fellow-man.
10 They [cause him to go/cause the poor to go about/go about] naked without clothing,
and they take away the sheaf from the hungry; [or, someone goes hungry while carrying sheaves...]
So, the wicked is being pictured either as stealing a sheaf of grain from the hungry – or making the hungry work while carrying his sheaves in the harvest field. In other words, making a hungry man work while not allowing him to eat a little of what he's working on that could be a benefit to the hungry. Like muzzling the ox while he's threshing.
Job 24 Commentary: No Drink
And that second option might be the more likely one – making the hungry work while not letting them eat what they're working on. Because in the next verse, Job seems to mention the needy working for the wicked while they themselves go thirsty. They worked with the wicked man's sheaves without any food. Now they work for the wicked man making oil and wine – liquids – without getting to drink anything.
11 [Which/They] [make/produce/press out] oil [within/between] [their walls/the rows of olive trees],
and tread their winepresses, [and suffer thirst/but thirst/while they are thirsty].
So, the poor man presses the olives and grapes of his wicked masters. But the ones doing the work go without any of the benefit of the work they're producing. They're like slave labor – with their masters failing to recognize that these poor and needy men are men – who are made in God's image and worthy of compassion and care.
Job 24 Commentary: Bleak Life
Well then, Job goes on in verse 12 to paint a really bleak picture of life on this earth where wicked men prosper. And then Job adds this note: "God doesn't do anything to stop it!"
12 [Men/Dying men] groan [from out of/from] the city,
and the soul of the wounded crieth out [for help...]:
yet God [layeth not folly to them/does not pay attention to folly/charges no one with wrongdoing].
And this is the thrust of Job's frustration that he's pouring out in this chapter. The wicked even go so far as to kill people. And it's as if the groans of their victims could be heard from all around the city as these men die at the hand of wicked people.
And according to the way that Job and his friends have been thinking – this shouldn't happen. Or if it does happen, God should immediately stop it. Because – after all – God punishes evil. He rewards good. He delivers the innocent.
And the reality is that God does those things often. But not always.
Sometimes he does let wicked men prosper. Sometimes he does let the innocent and needy be abused and taken advantage of.
And that makes no sense to us. Because even as we've heard in our church in a recent message – God is good and God is powerful. And if that's the case, then we would assume that God would basically make earth like heaven – no sin, no wickedness, no injustice. In fact, as we've heard on Wednesday nights – that's how Jesus commands us to pray – that earth would be like heaven in terms of God's will being done in both.
But that's where Pastor Kindstedt's third point comes in from a few Sunday evenings ago. God is also wise. Not just good and powerful – but also wise. He knows what he's doing. And he knows what to allow and when. And it won't always make sense to us. But again we’re reminded that When We Can't Understand God's Ways, We Must Trust God's Wisdom.
Job is almost ready to do that. His friends are nowhere near being able to accept that. They have forced God's ways make sense to them. And in the process, they're condemning an innocent man. They're accusing Job of sinning – and sinning to such an extent that God has brought this suffering in his life as a form of punishment.
But that's why Job is pointing out the fact that wicked men do sometimes get away with murder – literally. And innocent men suffer wrongfully. It happens! – Job is telling these men.
Job 24 Commentary: More of a View of Wickedness
Then, Job continues to speak of wicked men.
13 [They are of/Others have been with/There are] those that rebel against the light;
they know not the ways thereof, [and don't want to ...]
nor [abide/stay] in the paths thereof.
And from there, Job adds to his composite portrait of wicked people.
Job 24 Commentary: Murderers
We have murderers in verse 14.
14 The murderer rising [with the light/at dawn/before daybreak]
killeth the poor and needy,
and in the night is as a thief.
Job 24 Commentary: Adulterers
Then, adulterers are in view in verse 15.
15 The eye also of the adulterer [waiteth/watches] for the twilight,
saying, No eye [shall/will/can] see me:
and [disguiseth/covers with a mask] his face.
Job 24 Commentary: Adulterers or Thieves
Then in verses 16 and 17 Job is speaking either of adulterers from verse 15 – or he's starting a new category of wicked people by speaking once more of thieves.
16 In the dark [they/robbers] [dig through/dig into/breaks into] houses,
which they [had marked for themselves/shut themselves in] in the daytime:
they know not the light.
17 For the morning is to them [even/the same] as [the shadow of death/thick darkness/deep darkness]:
[if one know them, they are in/he knows/they are friends with] the terrors of [the shadow of death/thick darkness].
Job 24 Commentary: The Friends are Overly-Simple
And in light of all of this – of wicked men prospering – of wicked men abusing others with no justice brought to them – Job seems to take aim at the overly-simple representation of reality that his friends have constructed in their minds.
18 [You say...] He is [swift/insignificant/foam] [as/on] the waters;
their portion is cursed [in the earth/of land]:
[he beholdeth not/they do not turn toward/so that no one goes] the way of [the/their] vineyards.
So, the friends have claimed that wicked people are insignificant. They're like water. Further, what they have in this life is cursed. And as an example of that cursing – these evil people don't even get to see their vineyards.
But Job was just telling them of times where the wicked have the innocent and needy work in those vineyards! And God doesn't seem to do anything about it in order to make the situation like what the friends say it should be!
Either that, or Job is saying here that the needy are insignificant in this life and that their portion – rather than the portion of the wicked – is cursed and that the needy don’t get to be benefited from the produce of vineyards.
I lean toward the first interpretation. That Job is attacking the friends’ overly-simple way of thinking of the wicked in this life.
Job 24 Commentary: More False Claims
And here's another thing the friends claim.
19 Drought and heat [consume/carry away] the snow waters:
so doth the grave those which have sinned.
20 [The womb/A mother] shall forget him;
the worm shall [feed sweetly/feast] on him;
he shall be no more remembered; [because of the worm's work...]
and wickedness shall be broken as a tree.
So, the friends claim that wicked men simply die. They are forgotten by everyone and their bodies decay. God destroys them.
And while that is usually ultimately true, Job has just furnished numerous examples where that doesn't happen right away.
Job 24 Commentary: No Consequences
No – in fact, Job says – the wicked man abuses others in this life with no consequence. And this is now Job speaking what he personally believes – not what he’s saying the friends think.
21 He [evil entreateth/wrongs/preys on] the barren that beareth not:
and doeth not good to the widow.
So, Job paints the picture of bad people preying on the barren and the widow – with no repercussion.
Job 24 Commentary: The Wicked Destroy the Mighty
And it's not just the weak and disadvantaged that evil men overcome. They even destroy the mighty!
22 [He/God] [draweth/drags off] [also/but] the [mighty/valiant] [with/by] his power:
[he/God] riseth up, and no man is sure of life.
Now, one translation I often consult makes these statements to apply to God – as if this is Job still quoting his three friends and the wrong things they've asserted. But I don't think that's necessary. In the flow, it seems that Job is still speaking of wicked men – not of God.
Job 24 Commentary: How God Deals with the Wicked
And then I think Job grapples with the idea that God seems to do two actions at the same time that seem to not operate in harmony – 1) God grants the wicked safety and 2) He's watching everything they do.
23 Though it be given [him/the wicked] [by God...] to be in safety, whereon [he/the wicked] resteth;
[yet/but] [his/God’s] eyes are upon [their/the wicked’s] ways.
Job 24 Commentary: The Wicked Do Eventually Die
And in the end though, it seems like Job admits that the wicked do eventually die.
24 They are exalted for a little while,
but are gone and brought low;
they are [taken out of the way/gathered up/gathered in] as all other,
and cut off as the tops of the [ears of corn/heads of grain].
So, perhaps what we see here in this verse is Job calibrating his thoughts.
For much of this chapter we've seen him go to one extreme and paint a picture of the wicked always winning and prospering. And in fact, as I've taught this chapter, I've consciously added words to qualify what Job is saying – because at face value, his bare words are giving the impression that the wicked never lose or suffer or even die.
And so, I think what Job is doing here in verse 24 that we just read is adjusting his message a bit. He's recognizing that the wicked do eventually die – just like everyone else. And really, their exaltation is just for a little while in the scheme of things.
And yet, what Job has said in this chapter he still does really believe – that wicked men don't always suffer and face curses from God in this life. That there are long stretches of time during which it will look like the wicked are doing very well and that God is doing absolutely nothing about it.
Job 24 Commentary: A Challenge Raised
And so, Job ends his speech by throwing down the gauntlet and raising a challenge to these thoughtless friends of his.
25 And if it be not so now, who will [make/prove] me a liar,
and make my speech [nothing worth/worthless]?
And, Job shouldn’t have offered that challenge. Because one last time, one of his friends is going to answer that challenge and try to prove Job wrong. We'll see that next time.